America’s Agony Is Over: Vietnam War Ends

US Army helicopters such as these pictured in 1966 played a major role in the Vietnam War, moving troops and launching attacks
US Army helicopters such as these pictured in 1966 played a major role in the Vietnam War, moving troops and launching attacks

by Ray Setterfield

January 23, 1973 — A ceasefire agreement was signed on this day, bringing to an end the vicious and bitter Vietnam War, with President Richard Nixon claiming "peace with honor". It was agreed that the ceasefire would take effect from midnight on January 27.

The breakthrough came after Dr Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, had returned to Washington from France with a draft peace proposal after lengthy negotiations in Paris.

It was a war that left lasting scars on the American psyche and cost the lives, according to the Defence Department, of 45,933 US soldiers. Over 1.3 million Vietnamese troops were killed and more than two million civilians also died.

Vietnam was torn apart by conflict for decades. It was a French colony seized by Japan in 1940 and held by the Japanese until 1945 when they were defeated in the Second World War.

The French then wanted to reimpose Vietnam’s colonial status but were resisted by the Viet Minh, a Vietnamese group that sought the country’s independence. That led to the eight-year French Indochina War that France lost in 1954.

Then came the Geneva Conference of 1954 when it was agreed the country would be “temporarily” divided along the 17th parallel – thus creating communist North Vietnam and non-communist South Vietnam. Much to the anguish of the United States.

The White House, fervently opposing communism, supported the “domino theory” which basically stated that if one country fell to communism, its neighbour would follow, then its neighbour, and so on.

Richard Nixon, Vice-President at the time to President Eisenhower, explained the theory in more detail: “If Indochina falls, Thailand is put in an almost impossible position. The same is true of Malaya with its rubber and tin. The same is true of Indonesia.

“If this whole part of South East Asia goes under communist domination or communist influence, Japan, which trades and must trade with this area in order to exist, must inevitably be oriented towards the communist regime.”

North Vietnam was led by communist president Ho Chi Minh from its capital, Hanoi, and South Vietnam was under the control of Ngo Dinh Diem, who, from his capital city of Saigon, opposed communism.

But by 1957 a guerrilla force known as the Viet Cong, trained and supported by the North Vietnamese army, began fighting in South Vietnam and by the early 1960s had seized control of much of the country. North Vietnam had a single aim – to unify the whole country under a communist regime modelled on those of Russia and China.

Weapons, supplies and advisers were poured into the North by the Soviet Union and China, while America supplied military advisers to the South. By 1959 there were about one thousand of them there, but President John F Kennedy, elected in 1960, had increased the number to 16,000 by the time of his death in 1963.

That same year North Vietnam sent 40,000 soldiers to fight in the South. In response, President Lyndon Johnson, who had replaced the murdered Kennedy, was to send in combat units for the first time.

By 1964 there were 184,000 American troops in Vietnam – a figure that would climb significantly year by year. By 1969 it had risen to more than 500,000. Forces from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines also helped the South Vietnamese.

The last American troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973. In 1975, two years after the ceasefire agreement, the North Vietnamese launched a massive invasion and entered Saigon on April 30 that year. South Vietnam surrendered.

On July 2, 1976, Vietnam was reunited as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with Hanoi as its capital. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of Ho, who had died in 1969. Diplomatic relations were restored with the US in 1995.

* Three days before announcing the 1973 peace deal, Richard Nixon, who had been re-elected by a landslide, was sworn in for a second term as the Republican US President. However, a break-in at the offices of the Democratic Party in Washington’s Watergate building became linked to his re-election campaign and an inquiry was ordered. But that’s another story . . .

Published: December 11, 2022
Updated: January 3, 2023

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